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Carolyn Hax: Husband thinks wife’s self-depreciating humor gives him permission to mock her

Washington Post

Hi, Carolyn: Part of my humor – and my self-defense mechanism – is to be self-deprecating. I’m getting better about it, as I learned early on that people would use my jokes against me, which never felt good. Plus, I genuinely like myself a lot better with over a decade of therapy under my belt.

I still make fun of myself around my husband, though, and he has started making fun of me right alongside me. Only it doesn’t feel good. It feels like a jab.

When I told him this, he pointed out that I was making fun of myself and he was just in on the joke. I decided I would stop with my self-deprecating humor, especially since we have young kids and I wonder how they will develop their sense of self hearing it. But my husband continues to make fun of me. Last night he made fun of my feet yet again (they’re big! so what!), then walked by and grabbed my belly fat. When I told him I didn’t like that, he again pointed out that I have made fun of myself.

Am I being too sensitive? Can I communicate better that I don’t want to be made fun of in that way? I don’t mind being made fun of for other things. Just not my body. – Self-Deprecating vs. Deprecating

Well, you just communicated this clearly to us. “It feels like a jab.” “I don’t mind being made fun of for other things. Just not my body.” “I wonder how [the kids] will develop their sense of self hearing it.” Granted, you apply that to self-deprecation, but isn’t the mocking of others even worse?

Any one of these amply explains why you would like your husband to stop. As would this: “Tweaking ourselves and tweaking others are two different things.”

Do you know what else suffices? “Stop.” In its plainest vanilla form.

It means stop, and ignoring “stop” when interacting with others is a message so bad it has the power to jump fences into every other kind of bad there is.

Our reasoning governs our own actions and feelings, not anyone else’s. The reasoning your husband has used to defend his right to mock you is that his viewpoint (”I’m only kidding,” “You do the same thing,” “You’re being too sensitive,” etc.) is supposed to apply to your feelings: He’s kidding so you can’t really feel hurt.

No, no, no. That rationale underlies every decision not to stop upon hearing “stop,” and it’s toxic.

Meanwhile: You’re willing to consider he’s right or you’re too sensitive. At least, you seem to have chosen not to mount a counterargument to his excuse; maybe you think he’s wrong but you aren’t sure why?

Please be assured: His logic doesn’t work. You’re all free to tease with mutual consent, sure. Your making fun of yourself isn’t tacit permission for him to make fun of you, though – it’s permission for him to make fun of himself. That’s it.

Logically speaking, that is. But here’s the thing about feelings: You don’t have to be “right” for his jokes to be wrong. His position is that he is entitled to mock you even after you say you don’t like it. Is that really the spouse anyone wants to have? Or to be?

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 9 a.m. time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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